ICN – One Year On

July 28th, 2021

As we celebrate our first anniversary Joanne Whitehead our Procurement and Performance Manager looks back on the last 12 months

I can’t quite believe that it’s a year since we launched the new Innovation Chain North (ICN) framework.

The launch of the new framework was a major undertaking from the start, but has been additionally challenging as we looked to launch a procurement framework in global pandemic. Launch meetings switched to PowerPoint presentations and we’ve still to meet many new partners face to face (hopefully something we can look to do very soon).

Despite these challenges, so many good things have come out of having to adapt to the new normal. Video conferencing in many ways has helped to make key client briefings easier to attend and this in turn has resulted in some really great discussions and crucial feedback which will help us shape ICN moving forward.  In fact, their success has led us to decide to offer a hybrid approach to future meetings so that attendance can either be in person of via a video link.

The admin task of completing over 200 framework agreements have also proved extremely difficult during the pandemic but we’ve got there in the end and all completed agreements have now been issued.

As we enter into our second year, I’m pleased to report that we have a record 21 Registered Housing Provider clients signed up to use the new framework with more in the process of obtaining internal approval. The increasing number of clients obviously means more work for consultants and contractors, but also makes for excellent client sessions where we can share experiences, discuss current hot topics and work collaboratively to achieve our objectives. The increased business the framework generates is really positive news for the sector and Great Places as we all look to help to tackle the ongoing housing crisis by building much-needed affordable homes. As a profit-for-purpose venture all of the fees that ICN receives after management costs are deducted are used to further the development of the framework for the benefit of our clients and suppliers.

The pandemic has also led to the increasing importance of digital connectivity and ICN was no exception. November saw us launch a new website with a new portal following in April 2021. Both have been a huge success, with the website providing a great shop window for potential clients to find out more about ICN. The portal is also proving to be an excellent tool where clients can set up new schemes, submit calls offs and issue mini competitions; contractors and consultants can update their profiles; view and download framework documents; upload due diligence information; look at live opportunities and have all their calls offs and successful mini competitions in one place. Feedback so far from all users has been really positive and they particularly like how easy it is to navigate around the portal and find what they need; the reset password function and the fact that all the framework information for their company is in one place and they can access it at any time.  We also have more ideas for developing the portal further and are working with our web developers to launch further phases including the replacement of more paper / excel forms, performance data outputs and social value outcomes.  A noticeboard area where users can ask questions, have discussions and highlight any issues is also planned.




Social value and achieving the best outcomes for the areas in which we build, and our residents is a key part of the ICN framework. To date approximately £3.5m has been pledged in social value actions. This includes money donated to local community projects and food banks; work experience weeks offered to school leavers; specialist advice offered to the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector; offers of full time apprenticeship opportunities to name just a small selection of what our consultants and contractors have agreed to deliver.  As part of the framework offer, clients also have access to our social value tool which enables each scheme to have a plan agreed with the project team on  how best to deliver the social value outcomes. We are really keen to ensure that social value pledges are turned into outcomes and will monitor progress and discuss plans with the clients on a quarterly basis. Although it is still early some excellent progress has already been made to date, including members of Sutcliffe, Great Places Housing Group, Markhams Ltd & Brewster Bye Architects teams joining forces to take part in a recent litter pick around the Horace Street project in Bolton.

Another exciting development is the progress of the ICN Modular Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) and the collaborative work we have done with the Offsite Homes Alliance (OSHA), a group of Registered Providers looking to enable a complaint procurement route for the provision of MMC homes. After listening to feedback from current suppliers on the DPS we’ve also streamlined the process and the DPS is now open for submissions from MMC suppliers. You can find more information here or visit www.innovationchainnorth.co.uk

The work doesn’t stop there and the ICN team is continuing to look at ways in which we can improve the framework. Client feedback has been an essential part of this and we continue to listen to suggestions on how we can improve the service we offer. To date we’ve implemented a range of improvements and the following are planned in the  coming months:

  • Further development of the portal to make it an even better tool, including additional online forms and noticeboard.
  • Collecting and sharing key performance data at start on site stage to monitor pre-contract performance of consultants and contractors.
  • Working with Employers Agents and clients to be able to give contractors better insight into future opportunities to increase the number of contractors tendering
  • Analysis of tenders to provide data on trends, performance and workloads.

It’s been quite a first year and we really wouldn’t be in the place we are now without  our  clients, contractors and partners and we look forward to their ongoing support as we go into our second year.